By Cindy Brauer
Over the past decade, the quest to cut fleet fuel spend has been helped along by new technology, more fuel-efficient vehicles, innovative products, and industry best practices. However, despite successful fuel reduction measures, Mike Donahue, CAFM, acknowledges, “the efforts won’t be ending anytime soon.”
Donahue, manager of transportation and construction for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), pointed out that, even in the difficult economy, “Our transportation fuel spend has increased from around $1.5 million to $2.5 million annually over the last few years. I expect larger challenges if the economy really takes off.”
Founded in 1946 as a publicly owned electric utility, OPPD serves 352,000 customers in a 13-county, 5,000-square-mile area in southeast Nebraska. Headquartered in Elkhorn, Neb., the 60-member fleet department maintains 1,411 vehicles, including 394 pieces of construction and stationary equipment. Fleet facilities include one light-duty and four full-service garages.
Fleet units include passenger cars, SUVs, vans, a locomotive, digger derricks, and coal dozers. The utility’s truck inventory reflects the fleet’s wide range of functions — cargo/dump/underground trucks, trailers, pickups, and bucket, service/utility, specialty, and semi-trucks.
Pursuing Idle Reduction Initiatives
Reducing vehicle idling is a primary target to cut fuel consumption among electric utility fleets. Service vehicles with hydraulic booms and baskets, increasing amounts of electronics, power tools, heat and air conditioning needs for field crews, etc., all require power that traditionally has been provided by running the vehicle engine while parked at a work site.
Donahue, an 18-year industry veteran, has looked to a number of solutions to supply OPPD employees fully functioning vehicles without requiring a fuel-guzzling idling engine. “Excellent support” from the department’s senior management reinforced Donahue’s exploration of the many available options to reduce idling and fuel expense.
Recently, the fleet team installed Energy Xtreme Independence Package mobile power units in two “trouble trucks” — units available 24 hours a day to respond to situations or customers with problems in their electric services.
Energy Xtreme Units Support ‘Trouble Trucks’ Specific Needs
Austin, Texas-based Energy Xtreme (EX) offers a series of power management systems for a variety of applications. The noncombustible mobile units fit within a vehicle’s existing cabinet and have been military- and battlefield-tested, according to founder and CEO Devon Scott.
The OPPD units are equipped with the EX Service Vehicle Independence Package with an extended battery package. The mobile power unit runs the trucks’ electrical accessories — emergency lights, tools, battery chargers, computers — and supplies supplemental heat for the cab and a potential air conditioner package for the summer, said Donahue.
The fleet team determined the available EX Hydraulic Independence package was unnecessary for the trouble trucks. “The booms and bodies were transferred to new chassis, so we weren’t starting from new,” Donahue explained. “The booms on these trucks were used only about 15% of the time. The team, including the operators we interviewed, agreed that the best bang for our buck for the trouble trucks would come from addressing idle time outside of boom operation.”
Donahue’s team took special care in installing the first EX unit. “Our intent was to minimize any impact on the users’ work, just changing how they do it,” he noted. “The mechanics understand our users and the challenges this technology would be for them. They also know the technology has the potential to obtain cost savings related to vehicle maintenance, operation, and reliability.”
The OPPD mechanics integrated these issues in the installations. “We made sure the system worked the way we wanted it to, and the user instructions were easy and simple to follow,” said Donahue. The second installation was much easier, he added.
While still early in their use, installing the EX mobile power units appear to be making a difference. The fleet team determined the old trucks averaged 12.6 miles per engine hour.
“On the new trucks,” reported Donahue, “we are averaging 16.9 miles per engine hour, an approximate 33% improvement, which we will take any day of the week.” He also credits the vehicle operators, “who were asked to do something different and gave it a chance.”
Altec Provides Additional Idling Solution for OPPD
The OPPD fleet is now deploying another idle-reduction measure with the delivery of two Altec JEMS units.
The JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System) hybrid-electric technology is an integrated plug-in system that uses stored electrical energy to power aerial devices, tools, and exportable power, and provides cab comfort accessories. The energy storage system is recharged by plugging into shore power or by the truck’s internal combustion engine.
Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., Altec provides products and services to the electric utility, telecommunications, and contractor markets worldwide.
The new OPPD units are basket trucks equipped with an electrical package to power accessories, tools, computers, an HVAC system, and the hydraulics/boom system.
“We are almost 100% Altec in our aerials and digger derrick trucks,” said Donahue. The 49 OPPD digger derricks primarily dig holes and hoist and set utility poles.
In evaluating the Altec JEMS units’ feasibility for OPPD, Donahue and his team conducted product research by consulting with fleet industry peers.
“We interviewed users of the Altec product who were very enthusiastic with the results and were expanding their applications,” Donahue recalled.
In the end, said Donahue, “It made sense to get some experience with a product that was specifically designed and implemented with the electric utility industry in mind.”
Over time, the fleet will evaluate and compare the success of each idle-reduction initiative to fine-tune their applications for best results.
Take Advantage of Peer Knowledge & Experience
Donahue doesn’t claim to be “reinventing any wheels” with the OPPD fleet’s fuel cost-savings initiatives. Indeed, he said, “There are many fleets out there like OPPD. Certainly, there are many much higher profile fleets that are doing great things. There are many others that aren’t so high profile that are doing great things as well. We all know the challenges and face many of the same issues, day to day and year to year.”
He and his team have found nearly all their fellow fleet industry professionals generously share their experiences to help each other out.
“I would encourage fellow fleets to continue to reach out to the many available fleet communities out there to learn from each other and be active in going after these important fleet issues,” he concluded. “There are many opportunities to go after idle time and cut fuel usage.”
Utility Uses Wide Range of Fuel Cost-Cutting Measures
The Omaha Public Power District’s fleet team, headed by Mike Donahue, CAFM, manager of transportation and construction, has implemented a wide variety of initiatives to cut fuel costs, an effort Donahue sees as ongoing well into the future. Among the measures the fleet has implemented are:
- Use of biodiesel (B-20) since 1993. “Makes sense given our farm-belt location,” Donahue observed.
- A growing fleet of hybrid and plug-in vehicles, primarily passenger cars and SUVs. In addition to Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, and International models, the fleet awaits delivery of Ford C-Max Energi and Fusion Energy plug-in extended range hybrids for assignment to supervisors. The fleet’s Chevrolet Volt averages more than 100 mpg.
- An electric vehicle charging station, installed at the fleet’s main garage, for use with the new Ford plug-in hybrid units.
- A single fuel card system for internal and external fuel transactions.
- Annually locked-in bulk fuel prices. The strategy helps in budget planning, said Donahue. The practice has leveled out fuel costs and generally has benefitted OPPD over the past five years.
- Ongoing fleet right-sizing analysis. The targets are underutilized units to be pooled, shared, or traded, and units that can be downsized, eliminated, or repurposed. So far, efforts have resulted in a 40-50 unit reduction.
- Automated pool system to handle light-duty vehicle pools at two main fleet sites.
- A telematics solution, planned for the near future, to track driver/vehicle location, behavior, maintenance diagnostics, odometer and hour readings, etc.
Implementing these steps, OPPD has seen improved fuel management; better fuel economy; fleet reductions; unit replacements with smaller, more fuel-efficient engines or with smaller vehicles in general; increased pool size; and better fleet utilization.
Fuel Wasted in Idling Engines
|Medium & Heavy-Duty Vehicles|
|Idling Fuel Use (gal/h)|
|RPM||AC off||AC 50%||AC on|
|Idling Fuel Use|
|Engine Size (liters)||gal/h (no accessories)|
These tables show how much fuel idling engines use. For larger vehicles, locate your engine idling RPM and the percentage of time you use air conditioning while idling to determine how much fuel idling consumes. For light-duty vehicles, determine idling fuel use by engine size.